BioFrontiers Institute Launches Inaugural Sie Post-doctoral Fellowship Program; Research Will Focus on Improving the Lives of People with Down syndrome
July 10th, 2014 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation
Crnic Institute-affiliated program names Mary Allen, Geertruida Josien Levenga, Alfonso Garrido-Lecca
DENVER (July 8, 2014) – The BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado launched its inaugural Sie Post-doctoral Fellowship Program in affiliation with the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome on the Anschutz Medical Campus. The program will fund three post-doctoral researchers, Sie Fellows, who will focus on research that will improve the lives of individuals with Down syndrome.
The Sie Fellows research is co-funded by the BioFrontiers Institute and the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation. Every two years, three Sie Fellows will be selected from a competitive grant process and will receive between $71,000 and $85,000 a year for two years.
Nobel Laureate and head of the BioFrontiers Institute Thomas Cech, BioFrontiers Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) Leslie Leinwand, and Executive Director of the Crnic Institute Tom Blumenthal were key in assessing the 44 applicants prior to deciding on the inaugural three recipients: Mary Allen of CU-Boulder’s Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB), Geertruida Josien Levenga of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Behavioral Genetics, and Alfonso Garrido-Lecca of MCDB.
“The projects being carried out by the Sie Fellows are key to significantly improving the lives of people with Down syndrome and to eradicating the medical and cognitive ill effects associated with the condition,” said Leinwand. “The support of early-stage post-doctoral fellows is crucial in any research operation, and these awards make it possible for faculty to increase their commitment to this important cause.”
The BioFrontiers Institute was formed in 2011 to bring together faculty members from the life sciences, physical sciences, computer science and engineering with the passion and skills needed to research across traditional disciplines and tackle difficult medical issues, under the leadership of Cech, the institute’s director.
“The research embodies the kind of cutting-edge interdisciplinary approach to biomedical problems that BioFrontiers is all about,” Cech said.
“The fact that there were 44 applicants for three awards underscores how exciting research for Down syndrome is, and the potential for real scientific contribution,” said Blumenthal. “With our Supergroup of 60 scientists working on Down syndrome and meeting monthly from different disciplines and different schools, we are truly making a difference for this special population and their families.”
“The Global Down Syndrome Foundation is pleased to add these outstanding researchers to our future portfolio of research we aim to fund and advocate for. Their research is already so relevant,” said Michelle Sie Whitten, executive director of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, the fundraising and advocacy arm of the Crnic Institute.
Allen’s research involves genetic sequencing data from people with Down syndrome and their parents to understand how an extra copy of chromosome 21 puts people with Down syndrome at higher risk for health issues such as heart defects, thyroid conditions, leukemia, Alzheimer’s disease, and respiratory and hearing problems, but at lower risk for heart attack, stroke and solid-tumor cancers.
Levenga, who is a neuroscientist, is conducting research into ameliorating the seizures that afflict many people with Down syndrome.
Garrido-Lecca will test the hypothesis that alteration of microRNA levels in people with Down syndrome contributes to some of their health challenges.
Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition, affecting one out of every 691 live births in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because of the end of widespread institutionalization, better medical care, improved access to education and greater societal inclusion, people with Down syndrome are living longer and more productive lives, with the average life span increasing from 25 years in 1983 to 60 years today.
July 9th, 2014 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation
2014 National Down Syndrome Congress Convention
July 11-13, 2014
JW Marriott – Indianapolis, IN
Global Down Syndrome Foundation – Booth #80
Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome – Booth #79
Anna and John J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome – Booth #79
Catch up on the latest Global News! Sign up for our drawings and learn about our great medical care.
Impact for Families from a New Down Syndrome Clinic
Dr. Fran Hickey, Medical Director, Anna and Jon J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome
Friday, July 11, 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm, Room 202
Latest Legislative Developments: How They Impact You
Michelle Livingston, Sr. Director of Operations & Government Affairs, Global Down Syndrome Foundation, and Susan Goodman, Government Affairs Director, NDSC
Saturday, July 12, 8:30 am – 10:00 am, Room 201
Prenatal Testing: How to Get the Facts to Pregnant Women
Michelle Sie Whitten, Executive Director, Global Down Syndrome Foundation, and David Tolleson, Executive Director, NDSC
Saturday, July 12, 10:30 am – noon, Room 313
Biomedical Research on Down Syndrome and Alzheimer’s Disease:
the Many Paths to Improved Futures
Dr. Tom Blumenthal, Executive Director, Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome
Saturday, July 12, 10:30 am – noon, Room 201
Gross Motor Skills in Children with Down Syndrome – Birth to Walking Skills
Pat Winders, Senior Physical Therapist, Anna and John J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome
Saturday, July 12, 10:30 am – noon, Room 202-203
Announcement: Global Down Syndrome Educational Grant Recipients
Join Global Down Syndrome Foundation and National Down Syndrome Congress
as we celebrate the 2014 grant winners!
Saturday, July 12, 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm, Plenary Session, Grand Ballroom 5
Gross Motor Skills in Children with Down Syndrome – Post-Walking Skills
Pat Winders, Senior Physical Therapist, Anna and John J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome
Saturday, July12, 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm, Room 202-203
Promoting Strengths and Resources in Teens and Adults with Down Syndrome
Dennis McGuire, PhD, Senior Consultant, Global Down Syndrome Foundation
Sunday, July 13, 10:30 am – noon, Grand Ballroom 8
April 22nd, 2014 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation
In recognition of April as Autism Awareness Month, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation held a Q&A with Dr. Tamim H. Shaikh, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Dr. Shaikh has received one of the inaugural Crnic Grand Challenge Grants to study the genetic modifiers of autism spectrum disorders in patients with Down syndrome.
1. What is the correlation between Down syndrome and autism?
A majority of individuals with Down syndrome have mild to moderate cognitive impairment or intellectual disability. But a significant number of children with Down syndrome have a more severe form of cognitive impairment with behavioral and developmental issues that are diagnosed as autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The incidence of ASD in individuals with Down syndrome is estimated to be as high as 10 percent, which is substantially higher than the general population.
2. Please describe the nature of your research.
We are interested in discovering the genetic factors which increase the risk of ASD in Down syndrome. We know that all individuals with DS have an extra copy of chromosome 21. But, the question that remains is whether there are additional genetic differences that are found only in individuals who have both Down syndrome and ASD and not in individuals with Down syndrome who do not have ASD. In order to accomplish this, we will analyze the genomes of children with only Down syndrome and those with Down syndrome and ASD using cutting-edge genome analysis tools.
3. How could your research end up benefiting people with Down syndrome?
Some phenotypes are consistently present in all individuals with Down syndrome, while some like ASD are not always present in all individuals with Down syndrome. If we are able to identify genetic factors that are unique to the individuals that have Down syndrome and ASD, this may help us develop therapeutic interventions to help alleviate social and behavioral impairments associated with ASD in individuals with Down syndrome.
4. How could your research end up benefiting people with autism?
It is possible that genetic factors that influence the risk of ASD in individuals with Down syndrome may be the same or similar to the genetic factors that influence the risk of ASD in the general population. Thus, the genetic factors identified in our study can be quickly tested in a larger population of individuals with ASD. Furthermore, our findings may also shed light on the types of genes and gene families that are important for proper brain development, providing potential candidate genes that can be tested in individuals with autism in the general population.
5. How important is the Crnic Supergroup in helping your research and promoting collaboration?
The Crnic Supergroup was a great idea! Its formation has been instrumental in promoting collaboration and exchange of ideas among a diverse group of researchers with different expertise. This has led to some very interesting discussions and innovative solutions toward improving the outcomes of individual research projects. My own research has benefited immensely by my interactions with members of the Supergroup. The different perspectives and expertise of Supergroup members have made me aware of new ways to think about my research and have often brought my attention to better methodologies and approaches that has improved the efficiency of my work. I think that many of the ideas and innovations resulting from our discussions have the potential to help the larger research community, whether they are studying Down syndrome or other conditions.
6. How important is the Crnic Institute funding for advancing research on the CU campus?
The Linda Crnic Institute has become an extremely important source of funding for research on the CU campus. This funding has succeeded in attracting a group of highly motivated and innovative scientists on the CU campus to explore how they can apply their expertise and experience to the of study Down syndrome. The seed funds provided by the Crnic Institute grants are critical to the development of research projects studying various aspects of Down syndrome, which remains one of the most underfunded areas of research. These pilot projects are important in generating preliminary data, which in the near future will allow researchers at CU to attract funding from the National Institutes of Health and other funding agencies.
7. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Mumbai, India, where I received my undergraduate degree from Mumbai (Bombay) University, before coming to the U.S. for graduate studies. I got my doctoral degree in Molecular Genetics at the Louisiana State University Medical Center in New Orleans, and did my postdoctoral training in Human Genetics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Before coming to University of Colorado, I was an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and CHOP. I am currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Anschutz Medical Campus of the University of Colorado. I have been studying the genetic basis of multiple birth defects for almost 20 years. One of my major research interests is studying conditions associated with chromosomal imbalances in which there is either loss (deletion), gain (duplication) or rearrangement (translocation, inversion) of genetic material. Most often, children with these types of genomic rearrangements will have multiple symptoms with intellectual disability, developmental delay, autism spectrum disorders and other behavioral symptoms being the most common findings along with many other highly variable phenotypes. We are interested in determining the genetic factors that contribute to the variability in symptoms observed in individuals with the same apparent genetic/genomic defect.
8. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Down syndrome has many similarities to the conditions I study, as it is also characterized by having some consistent phenotypes but also many variable ones. Thanks to the funding from the Linda Crnic Institute, I am able to bring my expertise in studying genomic variation to the question of why many individuals with Down syndrome are at a higher risk of having autism spectrum disorders. This work would not have been possible without the support of the Crnic Institute.
April 10th, 2014 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation
We are continually impressed and humbled by the generosity, ingenuity and compassion of our donors. One recent example shines a light on how a high school student can make an adult-size impact.
Katie Shore (left, in picture above) of McConnellsburg High School in Pennsylvania raised more than $2,300 in five days for her senior project and donated the entire amount to the Global Down Syndrome Foundation!
It all started when Katie and her classmates were tasked to complete projects for their senior year. “Senior projects can be anything you want,” Katie said. “You can raise money or paint a room just as long as you get it approved by the principal, Todd Beatty.”
Inspired by her niece who has Down syndrome, Katie decided to raise money for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation and created a game that pitted each classroom in her school against the other. In the game, each classroom was assigned a bin to hold coins – pennies were counted as one point, and all silver coins were assigned a negative point value. The idea was for students to sabotage other classrooms by adding silver coins to their bins, which forces that class to add more pennies in order to boost their score.
At the end of the week, the classroom with the most points won a pizza party, and all the funds that were raised were donated to Global.
“My niece has Down syndrome, and people treat her different because of it,” Katie said. “She is a beautiful little girl, and I love her to death, and I want nothing more than for her to be happy. Kids make fun of her at school, and I see that she’s hurt. I just want to let her and all kids with Down syndrome know that people do care for them.”
The Global Down Syndrome Foundation would like to thank Katie Shore, her classmates and her school for this generous and thoughtful gift. The staff at Global will work hard to make sure this generous donation is used wisely and makes a difference. Global uses such funds to help fund life-changing medical care, research, events and programs like the I Love You Dance Parties, Dare to Play Football, Dare to Cheer and Advocacy promoting the civil and human rights of the differently-abled.
THANKS AGAIN, KATIE. YOU ARE AMAZING!
Pictured with Katie above are Alexandria Rexroth (center) and Reva Sounders (right)
February 25th, 2014 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation
In recognition of Febuary as American Heart Month, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation held a Q&A with Francis Hickey, the Medical Director at the Anna and John J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Colorado and Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome. Dr. Hickey has received one of the inaugural Crnic Institute Grand Challenge Grants, to study the pharmacokinetics of morphine in post-operative cardiac patients with Down syndrome.
1. Why do so many children with Down syndrome need to have heart surgery?
This is due to an increased percentage of heart defects in children with Down syndrome. Among the different patient populations with cardiac disease, the population with Down syndrome is unique. Approximately 40% of this patient group is born with congenital heart disease, often requiring repair within the first several years of life.
2. Please describe the nature of your research, in simple terms.
The primary goal is to improve the morphine management in patients with Down syndrome compared to those without Down syndrome before and after cardiac surgery. Measurement of morphine levels will be correlated with clinical findings in the post-operative time period to help understand pain medication needs.
3. How could your research end up benefiting people with Down syndrome?
This information will be essential in the management of post-operative pain and sedation in children with Down syndrome and congenital heart disease, as well as in general all children with Down syndrome in their pain management. This knowledge may also open a window in the challenging use of psychoactive medications in individuals with Down syndrome. Knowledge about the metabolism of morphine in these patients will guide dosing and therefore limit the clinical post-op risks and side effects these patients are exposed to in all clinical situations where pain control is needed.
Also, identifying the genetic locations which are involved in the metabolism of morphine in this patient population will lead to future understanding of the pharmacogenomics of patients with Down syndrome and assist in the development of studies leading to goal-oriented sedation protocols.
4. February is Heart Awareness Month. What heart-health advice do you have for people with Down syndrome and their families?
As with all children: Exercise regularly, eat healthy, and follow up with cardiologist as recommended.
5. How important is the Crnic Institute Supergroup in promoting collaboration?
This exciting collaboration is one of the few interactions nationally of researchers interested with basic research in Down syndrome with clinical researchers interested with the care and improved outcome of individuals with Down syndrome.
6. How important is the collaboration with The Heart Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado?
The Sie Center for Down Syndrome collaboration with The Heart Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado is vital to the outcome of individuals with Down syndrome with heart issues from birth on. Both clinics have ongoing interaction regarding the care of these patients. This current study is an example the collaboration of the Heart institute and the Sie Center for Down Syndrome.
7. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Boston and am currently Medical Director at the Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Colorado. I received my undergraduate degree from Harvard University, medical degree at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, and completed my pediatric residency at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, with my fellowship in Developmental Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital. In addition to my academic position for 25 years, I also was a primary care physician for 21 years in Pediatrics, including many children with special needs, including children with Down syndrome and autism. My research and clinical interests include Down syndrome clinical research, Down syndrome with the co-morbidity of autism, functional MRI application in Down syndrome, clinical database, and preterm infant outcome. My wife, Kris, and I have four children; the youngest, James, has Down syndrome and continues to teach us about life.
8. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Our group would like to thank the Crnic Institute and Global Down Syndrome Foundation for the opportunity to hopefully open the window of pain medicine management during cardiac surgery in patients with Down syndrome as well as pain management in general.
December 3rd, 2013 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation
Medical professionals, self-advocates and parents of people with Down syndrome will have access to 14 innovative educational programs across the U.S. and Puerto Rico through $155,000 in Global Down Syndrome Educational Grants.
This year’s grants, varying from $6,000 to $10,000 and benefiting eight local Down syndrome organizations, are being announced on International Day of Persons with Disabilities. In 2012, six organizations received grants from the program, which is a collaboration between the Global Down Syndrome Foundation (“Global”) and the National Down Syndrome Congress (“NDSC”).
“We are so pleased to be able to help local Down syndrome organizations and build capacity in our community,” said Michelle Sie Whitten, executive director of Global. “These organizations have great ideas that truly provide value to people with Down syndrome. They just need some encouragement and funds in order to deliver.”
Grant recipients detailed their ideas, budgets and goals for educational programs as part of their applications, which were reviewed by Global and NDSC for thoroughness, potential and sustainability. More than 50 applications have been submitted through the program.
The 2013 grant recipients are: Down Country, Down Syndrome Association of Brazos Valley, Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida, Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma, Down Syndrome Association of Greater Richmond, Down Syndrome Association of Memphis & the Mid-South, Puerto Rico Down Syndrome Foundation and Red River Valley Down Syndrome Society.
November 27th, 2013 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation
In recognition of November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation held a Q&A with Dr. Matt Kennedy, who has received one of the inaugural Crnic Institute Grand Challenge Grants. Kennedy received the award for his research into commonalities between Alzheimer’s disease and Down syndrome, specifically the loss of synapses in the brain and the increased production of a toxic peptide called beta-amyloid.
1. Please describe the nature of your research.
My lab studies how connections between neurons in the brain called synapses are modified by our experiences. This process, termed “synaptic plasticity”, is critical for our ability to learn and remember past events, and is disrupted in numerous neurological disorders and diseases. Recently, with help from the Linda Crnic Instititue, we have been investigating how a protein fragment called amyloid beta destroys synapses and kills neurons in the central nervous system. Amyloid beta is one of the principle neurotoxic proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s disease and builds up rapidly in people with Down syndrome, since they carry an extra copy of the gene responsible for amyloid beta production.
2. How could your research end up benefiting people with Down syndrome?
The average life expectancy for individuals with Down Syndrome has increased dramatically over the past three decades and is now approaching 60 years of age (compared to 25 years of age in 1983!). The bad news is that nearly everyone with Down syndrome will have Alzheimer’s neuropathology by the time they are 40-50 years of age. This is because the gene for the neurotoxic agent responsible for Alzheimer’s (amyloid precursor protein) is located on chromosome 21. Thus any advances in the understanding and treatment of Alzheimer’s will have an enormous impact on people with Down syndrome.
3. How could your research end up benefiting people with Alzheimer’s disease?
Currently, there are no good therapies for Alzheimer’s disease. There has been an enormous amount of effort focused on drugs that block production of beta amyloid. Unfortunately, none of these drugs have worked in clinical trials. Thus, we need to understand more about how amyloid proteins exert their neurotoxic effects if we are going to develop effective therapeutics.
4. How important is the Crnic Supergroup in helping your research and promoting collaboration?
Very important. It has been a wonderful experience to interact with other members of the group. I have learned an enormous amount Down syndrome, and it’s great to see what my colleagues are doing. Several collaborations between my lab and others in the group have already formed. Any time you get this many outstanding scientists together, great things will happen!
5. How important is the Crnic Institute funding for advancing research on the CU campus?
This is a very important funding mechanism. While Down syndrome is one of the more prevalent conditions in the human population, it receives little attention from major funding agencies. This is compounded by the current federal funding climate, which is at a historical low point. Private funding mechanisms like the Linda Crnic Institute grant program are having an enormous impact on sustaining biomedical research programs and allowing scientists to branch into new fields where they could make major contributions.
6. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I recently started my lab in the Department of Pharmcology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in the the fall of 2011. I grew up in Minnesota and went to graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle. Following graduate school, I did two postdoctoral fellowships-one at the University of California, San Francisco and a second at Duke University. So I have lived in the midwest, on both coasts, and now in Colorado, which I really love so far! My wife is also a scientist and we have twin daughters (just turned 5) who love getting out into the mountains.
7. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you to the Linda Crnic Institute for supporting my research!! Support from the Linda Crnic Institute has opened a new and promising research avenue for my lab that would not have been possible.
November 19th, 2013 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation
The Global Down Syndrome Foundation has launched a comprehensive directory of Down syndrome medical care centers in the U.S. This important directory provides people with Down syndrome and their families with accurate and useful information about medical care centers near them, by state. The directory includes 66 centers, many of which have filled in all the directory data, including:
- ages served
- dates and hours of operation
- types of medical services and specialties provided
- types of insurance accepted
- contact information
- wait list information
People with Down syndrome have specialized medical needs that sometimes cannot be addressed or assessed by general care providers. To this end, finding medical care centers specializing in patients with Down syndrome may be important.
Input from parents and caregivers, has indicated frustration with the lack of thorough and easily searchable information about such medical centers. The Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s directory will address and aims to reverse this frustration by providing accurate and thorough information about Down syndrome medical care centers in the U.S.
Search the directory of Down syndrome medical care centers at globaldownsyndrome.org/medical-care-centers
Down Syndrome Expert Dennis McGuire Joins with Global to Establish Center for Adult Care and Health Related Programs
November 13th, 2013 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation
Dennis McGuire, PhD
Dr. Barry Martin
Global has hired Down syndrome behavioral expert Dennis McGuire, Ph.D., to help establish a world-class medical care and research center for adults with Down syndrome under the umbrella of the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome.
It is anticipated that the new center will contribute to research at the Crnic Institute, serve pediatric patients transitioning out of the Anna and John J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Colorado, collaborate closely with the Crnic Institute’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center and build on the 12 years of expertise of the Denver Adult Down Syndrome Clinic in providing primary care and consultations to adults with Down syndrome.
Through a grant provided by the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, McGuire will start to see patients at the Denver Adult Down Syndrome Clinic with the clinic’s medical director, Dr. Barry Martin. The grant will assist the clinic to expand from two to four days a month on certain Wednesdays and Fridays already posted from December 2013 through April 2014.
“I am really pleased to work with the wonderful team at Global, Crnic and the Sie Center to provide the best possible service to people with Down syndrome and their families,” said McGuire. “This gives me the opportunity to spend time with unique and beautiful people with Down syndrome while also being able to train the trainer and share my knowledge with folks who will put it to excellent use.”
Read more about the announcement of the medical care and research center for adults with Down syndrome.
Global, Alzheimer’s Association, Crnic Institute Announce $1.2 Million in Alzheimer’s-Down Syndrome Research Grants
October 29th, 2013 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation
The Global Down Syndrome Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome have awarded $1.2 million in research grants to five scientists for innovative investigations that explore the development of Alzheimer’s disease in individuals with Down syndrome. The goal is to eventually translate the findings into improved treatments for all people with Alzheimer’s.
The organizations are supporting this growing area of study through a new joint grants initiative called “Understanding the Development and Devising Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease in Individuals with Down Syndrome.”
“The Alzheimer’s Association is very interested in understanding why people with Down syndrome are at such high risk for Alzheimer’s, and how it relates to other variations of the disease, so that we can identify new therapies to treat Alzheimer’s in both the Down syndrome and typical populations,” said Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association vice president of Medical and Scientific Relations. “Research in this population may also help us develop predictive tools for Alzheimer’s and design more effective clinical trials.”
“Investing with the Alzheimer’s Association has been so rewarding. The science our joint initiative is funding is of the highest caliber, and each grant approaches understanding, treating or preventing Alzheimer’s in people with Down syndrome from a very different angle. If initial results are promising, we hope that the National Institutes of Health will continue to fund this excellent science,” said Michelle Sie Whitten, executive director of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.